Unsafe Leon conditions lead to new approach

November 26, 2019

Living conditions on Leon Avenue were determined to be too hazardous after inspections by Kelowna Fire Department, prompting City of Kelowna staff to create other options for people who need overnight outdoor shelter in the absence of adequate indoor shelter spaces.

“Our primary concern with the current use of tents for overnight sheltering on Leon is safety related,” said Kelowna Fire Chief Travis Whiting. “Specifically, the close grouping of the tents due to the rapid and surprising growth of people sheltering outside and highly combustible materials, and the observed use of unsafe heaters creating fire or carbon monoxide risk to the residents.”

For the safety of the people living in the 200 block of Leon Avenue, the City has established two parks where people who need overnight outdoor shelter will have adequate space to safely set up their temporary shelters.

A section at the base of Knox Mountain Park near Poplar Point Road (565 Poplar Point Rd.) and a park off Recreation Avenue (551 Recreation Ave.) will be set up for people who need to shelter outdoors overnight. People will be permitted to set up shelter at 7 p.m. and required to remove their shelter by 9 a.m. the next morning, unlike on Leon Avenue where sheltering was allowed 24/7. To make the transition easier, people will be allowed to set-up tents after 1 p.m. on Tuesday Nov. 26 only.

The law in British Columbia requires that where there is insufficient housing and shelter space for people experiencing homelessness, the City may not prohibit all its parks and public spaces from being used for temporary overnight sheltering for those who need shelter. The City can, however, identify which parks or public spaces the prohibition against overnight sheltering will not be applied.

“Overnight sheltering in public spaces is not the long-term solution,” said Community Safety Director Darren Caul.  “Through the Journey Home Strategy, the City will continue to advocate for the provincial government and community groups to provide additional supportive and scattered housing to eliminate the need for people to shelter outdoors.”

The City recognizes this response to the rapid growth of those requiring outdoor shelter is not ideal for anyone. However, it was determined the sites best balanced the rights of the people sheltering outside with people impacted in neighbouring areas and the broader community.

“The properties were selected based on a number of factors that considered the current use, amenities and programming at the site, the accessibility of the site not only for the people sheltering there, but also for emergency services, and the distance to services in the core of the city,” said Caul.

Two security personnel will monitor the sites daily between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. and both Bylaw Services and RCMP will enhance patrols throughout the neighbourhoods. Basic amenities will be provided at each designated site including washroom facilities, garbage disposal, sharps disposal, bottled water and daytime storage. 

Since 2017, 215 people who were experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Kelowna have been housed and new apartments planned for 2020-21 will see another 150 people in supported housing, through Provincial initiatives implemented by BC Housing.

Residents wanting more information about the overnight shelters can visit kelowna.ca/homelessness or call 250-862-0440.